THE LINNETS ARE SINGING
West Auckland 0 Runcorn Linnets 0 – Runcorn win 2-3 on penalties – Emirates FA Cup first qualifying round
By Pete Sixsmith
I am a simple man with simple tastes. Not for me, the highlife of Antibes or St Lucia, the fine dining of The Fat Duck at Bray or quaffing Pol Roget in a Parisian champagne bar. I’m quite happy with a good game of football at, say, West Auckland, a Taylor’s pork pie and a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.
On a day when the gloom of more restrictions dampened, nay almost extinguished, the possibilities of spectators returning to football before the end of March next year at Steps 1-6 of the national game, I set off for the long and arduous drive from Shildon to West Auckland for their FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round tie with Northern Premier League club, Runcorn Linnets.
After safely negotiating the difficult roundabout at Tindale Crescent and venturing into Sainsbury’s in order to use the cash point, the car was safely parked in West Auckland and my travelling companion and myself completed the walk up to The Wanted Stadium, past the field where the zebra lived many years ago, a fact which many find incredulous. Some thought it was just a horse wearing pyjamas but the locals knew better.
My hopes of a warm Taylor’s pork pie were dashed as I entered the ground and saw a large hole where the club house, refreshment point and hospitality zone had been situated. The new construction of the new facilities had been delayed by the Covid virus and the decision by the club to employ a builder by the name of Mr O’Reilly. They hoped to have it ready for Christmas. But then, didn’t we all.
At last, a stroke of good fortune. I found the driver of the Runcorn team coach. I like to know what time teams get home on a night. He was hoping for 12.30 “as long as it didn’t go to penalties and the lads didn’t want to stop at an off-licence.” I cheerfully reminded him that there wouldn’t be any open after 10.00 which improved his typical coach driver lugubriousness.
The game started at a tremendous pace with both teams looking lively and pushing for an opener. For West, Kyle Patton was prominent, running at the Linnets defence as West tried to knock them off their perch. For Runcorn, the small No.10, who looked as if he had been in the Year 11 bubble at Runcorn Comp earlier in the day, did the same.
There were half chances, but nothing clear cut. Runcorn played the more controlled football but could not break down a resolute and determined West defence which bore little resemblance to the blancmange-like unit that had turned up at Shildon 17 days previously. Tom Flynn in goal made a couple of routine saves as did his Cheshire counterpart.
The bubble of six that I stood in, were drawn to the youth and inexperience of the referee. In the early stages, he had little to do – a mis-timed tackle here, a clumsy challenge there- but, when he made a contentious decision on the edge of the West box and got into a lengthy discussion with West’s Luke Bythway, in which he came off second best, the confidence oozed out of him.
In the second half, both sides treated him as a bottom set Year 11 maths group, would treat an inexperienced supply teacher. Every decision was contested, the swearing quotient was ramped up, while diving, rolling and acting skills were enhanced. Constructive football was forgotten about as players focussed on winning free kicks, attempting to get opponents red carded and hoofing the ball up field. It prompted one member of the group, a former professional who worked as a coach with a nearby Championship club, to make his excuse and leave, shaking his head both literally and metaphorically as he departed the Wanted Stadium. One other member of the group proclaimed it to be the worst half of football he had seen all season – and he has watched games in the Wearside League Second Division.
Two of the floodlights went out, which gave the referee some breathing space and allowed the increasingly hysterical players to calm down a bit. When they came back on, Runcorn took control of the game and passed on two gilt edged scoring opportunities, much to the chagrin of the coach driver who announced “that’s two (expletive deleted) hours of my life I won’t get back.” There were nods of agreement from those around.
It went to penalties. The penalty taking was not great. Both keepers made good saves and one of the West spot kicks ended up in a tree before a confident strike from a Linnets player took them through to the Second Qualifying Round amid wild and somewhat overstated celebrations.
I understand that the FA have many other serious problems on their agenda at the moment, but I think that appointing a referee in his first season to a game like this was a tad neglectful. If he was being assessed, hopefully he will take note of the usual constructive assistance that assessors give. Games between clubs from other leagues are often feisty affairs, particularly, if I dare say it, clubs from Manchester and Merseyside. West Auckland are no shrinking violets either so an official with more games under his belt may well have kept the game under firmer control.
As for the coach driver – I wonder what time he got home last night.
You could have forgiven anyone connected with Whitley Bay for being a tad apprehensive ahead of Tuesday night’s FA Cup first qualifying round tie against Witton Albion.
Just over 72 hours prior to their meeting with the step three club, Tony Fawcett and Derek Forrest’s side had fallen to a 4-1 home defeat against Newcastle University in the FA Vase.
And there was definitely a sense of trepidation around Hillheads as the chances of witnessing an FA Cup upset were assessed.
The predictions, rather unsurprisingly, were somewhat gloomy.
But thankfully, the sense of foreboding was not matched in the home dressing room as the Bay coaching staff and players felt that a shock result was in the offing.
They were to be proven correct as they set about their Northern Premier League opponents from the very first whistle and took a deserved lead with a fine free-kick from Jamie Dunn inside the opening five minutes.
Their visitors hit back with a wonderful free-kick of their own when Will Jones beat Chris Bannon with an unstoppable effort just before the quarter-hour mark.
At that point, with the heavy defeat against the University still fresh in the memory, it would have been easy for the Bay to fold and fall to an expected defeat.
To their credit, they redoubled their efforts, and deservedly restored their lead eight minutes into the second-half when Lewis Orrell scored.
The tie swung further in their favour midway through the second-half when the visitors were reduced to 10 men after Danny McKenna’s hand blocked a goalbound effort.
Jamie Dunn converted the resultant penalty and his side held on to claim an impressive scalp, despite Josh Wardle pulling a goal back for Albion with five minutes left.
Having witnessed a number of FA Cup shocks during my time, I can say that the majority tend to be plucky underdog tales, where luck is ridden and bodies are put on the line in a desperate effort to pull off a win against the odds.
But this was not one of those tales.
Whitley Bay fully deserved their win and they more than matched their higher-level opponents throughout a pulsating 90 minutes at Hillheads.
The home of the four-time FA Vase winners has seen more famous wins in the FA Cup – but this one deserves to be recognised for the level of discipline, fluency and ability shown by the men in blue and white.
Consett 1 Stockton Town 0 – Emirates FA Cup first qualifying round
Before the game it looked a match – between two of our best teams – that was too close to call. And so it proved.
Fittingly, only one goal separated the sides. And fittingly, the best shot of the night was decisive. But it wasn’t quite the classic cup tie that we hoped/expected.
After a cagey opening, Consett came within a whisker of taking the lead in the 19th minute – Ali Alshabeeb passing the ball to No. 9 Dale Pearson whose shot, which looked sure to go in, coming back off the inside of the right hand post. Calvin Smith’s follow-up effort was saved by Stockton keeper Callum Roberts.
It heralded Consett’s best phase of play of the half: Jake Orrell with a 40-yard ball to Pearson, with his run on goal stopped when Stockton full back Daniel McWilliams stuck out a foot to dispossess him. Full back Darren Holden was a constant threat, bombing down the left and sending over potentially dangerous crosses. Meanwhile, Lewis Green and Luke Carr both tried to find the pass to pick the lock of the Stockton defence.
And it was Carr who came up with the golden shot.
On the hour mark another break down the left by Holden gave him the chance to set Carr up. The No. 10 shifted the ball left to work some space before he buried a shot into the bottom right of the Stockton goal; a shot hit with power and precision.
In the 68th minute Pearson beat the offside trap, running from the halfway line to the edge of the Stockton area only to stop to wait for reinforcements instead of trying to finish off the move himself, allowing the defenders to get back.
Consett were able to withstand late Stockton pressure to seal their place in the second qualifying round. They seem to have got a knack for cups.
Meanwhile it was another frustrating match for Stockton. When I saw them for their opening fixture of the new season – a victory over Shildon in the FA Cup – they looked as though they hadn’t missed a beat since the early curtailment of last season. Since then they’ve stuttered in the league. That continued last night.
They started as brightly as Consett, moving the ball quickly up front down the wings, with (as usual) Kevin Hayes a threat. But, like Consett, many of their shots in the first half were off target.
Their best opening of the half came just before the break when Hayes drove at the heart of the Consett defence. His shot dipped in front of keeper Kyle Hayes who couldn’t keep hold of it, with Ross Wilkinson clearing the lines.
They started the second half brightly – Tom Portas with a dipping shot that Hayes (Kyle) did well to punch out over the bar as he fell backwards to make the save.
They saved their best football for the last 20 minutes of the game, helped by a couple of substitutions, with Jamie Owens in particular adding a bit of punch (in the footballing sense) to their play. In the 70th minute the Consett keeper saved a Shane Henry shot with his legs and then the host’s Ross Wilkinson cleared an effort off the line. Owens tried a snap shot, attempting to catch the keeper off guard, only for it to go just wide.
Owens almost set up an equaliser, hitting the ball across the six yard box, with Nathan Mulligan within a foot or two of connecting with it in front of goal. It just wasn’t to be their night.
Some First Division fixtures have been moved following yesterday’s FA Vase results.
Saturday 10th October 2020
Stockton Town v Consett (from 27/02)
Whitley Bay v Hebburn Town (from 31/10)
Tuesday 27th October 2020
Ashington v Hebburn Town (from 10/10)
Sunderland RCA v Guisborough Town (from 10/10)
Wednesday 28th October 2020
North Shields v Whickham (from 10/10)
Stockton Town v Seaham Red Star (from 10/10)
Wednesday 4th November 2020
Penrith v Northallerton Town (from 10/10)
Wednesday 11th November 2020
Thornaby v Consett (from 10/10)
And changes to the Second Division schedule:
Sunderland West End v Esh Winning (from 10/10)
Sunderland West End V Redcar Athletic (not 09/01)
The draws for both the first and second qualifying rounds of the Buildbase FA Vase were made at the same time. Following yesterday’s fixtures, these are the ties involving Ebac Northern League teams in the second qualifying rounds to be held on Saturday, October 10:
Esh Winning v AFC Blackpool
Newcastle University v Thornaby
Holker Old Boys v Crook Town
Silsden v Guisborough Town
Redcar Athletic v Whickham
Heaton Stannington v Padiham
North Shields v Northallerton Town
Nelson v Ashington
Newton Aycliffe v Billingham Synthonia
Brandon United v Penrith
Jarrow v Birtley Town
Sunderland RCA v Shildon
Campion v Sunderland Ryhope CW
Garforth Town v Seaham Red Star
Winning club to receive £725, with the losing club receiving £225.
(Four clubs have exemptions to the second round: Consett, Hebburn Town, Stockton Town and West Auckland. Newcastle Benfield has an exemption to the first round.)
Ryton and Crawcrook 2 Ashington 4 – Buildbase FA Vase First Qualifying Round
For a very short time there was just the hint of upset in this game.
Despite some good performances, Ashington had lost four on the bounce. Up against second division opposition in the Vase, the last thing they needed was to go behind, but concede a goal they did, and they were masters of their own misfortune.
Keeper Adam McHugh tried to dribble the ball round Ryton substitute striker Lee Richardson who managed to dispossess the No. 1, take it round him and a defender before bending the ball round a second defender and sending it into the net.
Fortunately for Colliers fans, the team was able to pick themselves up almost immediately – with Max Emerson equalising with a well-struck, low, hard shot from 20 yards out to restore their confidence.
Up until then Ryton had more than held their own, only two days since their last match. They looked particularly dangerous down the right thanks to David Below and Harry Outterside who sent over several probing crosses.
Before the opening goal in the 36th minute, both sides could have taken the lead. In the 8th minute Ashington’s Brandon Slater had a shot saved by keeper Josh Graham, with a follow-up shot by Dean Briggs blocked by Ryton captain Callum Turnbull.
Three minutes later McHugh pulled off the save of the match (and the best save I’ve seen so far this season), making a point blank save to deny an effort by Richardson. The substitute couldn’t believe he hadn’t scored. Briggs had another shot cleared off the line by Gavin Dick in the 21st minute. Dick also managed to get in the way of successive shots by Robert Taylor and Karl Ross only minutes after Ashington had equalised.
Ashington took more control of the game in the second half, peppering the Ryton box with shots and passes without being able to find a way through. They finally broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute with a shot on the turn by Brandon Slater. Team mate Ben Harmison should have added to the Colliers tally in the 75th minute but the No. 9 put his header wide after getting on the end of a Max Cowburn cross. Ashington were the stronger team although the Ryton defence were proving a tough nut to crack.
The last seven minutes were the most dramatic of the match. In the 83rd minute it looked as though there was no danger to the Ashington goal, but out of the blue Owen Brearton scored the goal of the game – hitting the ball on the turn and striking a looping shot that left McHugh unable to get back in time to stop it dropping into the net.
Any further Albion hopes of a comeback were soon dashed.
Two minutes after levelling the scores, Albion conceded a third – a Briggs shot slipped under the out-stretched hands of Graham and with only three minutes left Briggs hit a thundering shot that came back off the underside of the bar. Harmison – only a few feet from the goal line – couldn’t miss and put the finishing touches to the tie.
Ashington progress to the next round where they meet Nelson in the second qualifying round on October 10. The two teams also met in the Vase two seasons ago.